November 2010


“Running a football team is no different than running any other kind of organization – an army, a political party or a business. The principles are the same. The object is to win – to beat the other guy. Maybe that sounds hard or cruel. I don’t think it is.

“It is a reality of life that men are competitive and the most competitive games draw the most competitive men. That’s why they are there – to compete. To know the rules and objectives when they get in the game. The object is to win fairly, squarely, by the rules – but to win.

Vince Lombardi

Essentially all managers have acquired their opportunity and constructed command from the potency of their individual endeavors.  They have ascended beyond their peers by building an extraordinary reputation founded on incomparable performance, an acute understanding of the organizational goals, and the ability to interface in an orchestrated manner with other components of the enterprise.  They have inspired their team, shown them the vision, and laid out the strategy and plans for their team to excel.  As a manager, they have efficaciously directed their team to the realization of key objectives.  These managers have erected a high performance A-Team capable of delivering first class results.  This is an exhilarating period in a manager’s career.  It is a time when he senses he has it “dead-on” and concepts are flowing into actions almost seamlessly.  The team is responding, executing, and the ability to accomplish goals seems virtually endless.

Few developments can subvert a manager from this bliss more than his ensuing promotion.  With this elevation the game completely changes and it becomes essential for him to acquire the talents to manage other managers for the first time.  In this new arena he must achieve outcomes through an intermediary person.  The new Vice President or Director has successfully proven his ability to deliver results from his team, but now he has multiple teams from which to cumulate achievement.  And each team is headed by a manager who was, most likely, not performing as superbly as he was.  A newfangled challenge has arisen and if he is to evade the ensnarement of the Peter Principle, he must learn to master and shine in this stage of his career.  Building a performance based management team is a Leaders first major-league coaching assignment.

Finding yourself in this position should be a proud moment.  You have competed and won.  But your new challenge is substantial.  It is now compulsory for you to transform yourself from a field quarterback, who has been executing plays, to an adept Coach capable of sending the plays into action.  This is a dangerous transition primed for failure, but you now possess the potential to create significant contributions.  This success will have a larger impact on the company and therefore a greater bearing to your career.  The key to victory lies in knowing how to stay intimately involved without hands on execution.  Most managers, who fail, either will not let go of the ball or they take their eye off the ball entirely.  An exceptional Leader learns to realize results through the efforts of other leaders.

Managing Managers – A Game Changer

Up until now, you were rewarded for running, throwing the ball, and leading your team to victory on the field.  Now you are expected to do more planning and develop higher levels of strategy.  Your new responsibility entails developing and improving the cross functionality of in-house systems, processes and procedures.  If you linger on the field, you will find yourself leaping from issue to issue while realizing the work you just finished deteriorates with each new leap.  You can no longer persist at being hands-on in all situations.  Doing so will result in your failure.  You will only re-prove your capability as a front-line manager and that is a path leading to nowhere.

Cultivating your front-line managers should be your crucial focus.  Developing their skill set is your number one priority.  Since they are most likely less proficient than you were on the field, this can be a daunting endeavor.  It is essential to ensure your team’s success does not backslide while at the same time repelling all inducement to seize the ball and run with it yourself.

In addition to diffusing your priorities, your inability to step off the field, undermines your managers and emasculates their authority.  It precludes them from learning and growing and places them on a downward spiral towards failure.  Their employees see your continued involvement and continue to interact with you.  They go to you with their problems and look to you for solutions completely neutralizing your front-line manager.  Eventually your managers will become disgruntled and as they begin to question your motives, they will fall into disarray.

So let us discuss some essentials of how you can be successful in your new Coaching assignment.  First, your managers must understand the overall game-plan; what you are trying to accomplish with and their individual roles in a winning outcome.  Next, it comes down to my mantra of Business is Easy; People are Hard.  Without the right people, nothing materializes.  So your second job is to Coach your managers in assessing their people to guarantee A-Teams are being built everywhere.  With the right plan and the best people, execution on the field becomes the winning dynamic.  Just because you are coaching someone else to take over, does not mean your entire experience should not be utilized.  Your purpose is to replicate your success throughout the management team and teach them to acquire your methodology for being a great manager.  You want them to be able to reap results from their teams without you having to be involved in each situation.

At this point, I feel obligated to deliberate on that enchanted buzzword, “Empowerment”.  Over recent decades we have been indoctrinated to believe that if we just empower people, they will automatically be successful.  Just wave the magic wand and people can accomplish anything because you have empowered them.  After years of searching for genuine meaning and relevance for this term, I have determined this “mythical power” to be an absurdity.  You are not capable of giving someone your power.  If they are to become a Tough Leader, they must build and accumulate their “Own Power”.  Leaders must rely on their own skills, realizations and triumphs to create a power base.  Power propagates from success in doing things right.  Empowerment implies power is handed off and gifted to somebody for use.  The idea of empowerment is weak.  Empowerment equals “Under-powerment”.  You cannot afford to have an underpowered management team.  Instead you can Coach your managers to success utilizing these three step “hands-on” practice sessions.

First Step: Show them how to do it.

When faced with a new situation, whether it is explaining something to the team, counseling a team member, or describing a new process, your first step is to demonstrate through example to your manager how you expect it to be done.  Ask your manager to observe your presentation and take notes, not on what you say but rather on what he observes.  Ask him to study the structure of the meeting.  Then after the meeting ask your manager to explain what he observed.  If there is a significant gap between the lesson you expected him to learn and his feedback, you will need to repeat this process again.  Do not make the blunder of believing that an explanation from you prepares him for the next step.  He must be able to explain in his own words what you were attempting to extract from the situation.

Second Step:  Observe your manager’s execution the next time the situation arises.

This can be one the most difficult coaching assignments that exists.  Because it requires you to sit still and say nothing.  It is your turn to take the notes.  He has seen your execution and understands the concepts, methodology, and the outcomes that are to be achieved.  You must avoid the temptation to interrupt, to correct, and to enhance what he is presenting.  You are concerned with his development and not with delivering a perfect meeting.  After the meeting sit down with your manager and conduct a post-game review.  Discuss points where you wanted to jump in and describe how he can improve the next time.  Then determine if he is prepared to advance.

Third Step:  Next time this situation arises, he is on his own.

You have practiced and now it is time for him to engage on his own.  You still meet with him prior to this event and inquire about what he going to present and how he plans set it up.  Your job is to ask a lot of tough questions at this point to ensure he has indeed thought everything through.   At this stage you need to prepare him for the questions he will to be asked when you are not there.  As you give him the third degree, you are building his confidence to deal with the unexpected.   If he is weak in answering your questions, you must to tell him to go back and re-think the matter before proceeding.  Once he has adequately passed your Q&A session he is ready to step on the field and run the play on his own.  Of course, after he is finished, you will want to regroup for that post meeting and ask him to explain how the group responded in the meeting

Vince Lombardi also said, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”  Practice these three simple steps over and over again until your standards are embedded and you will develop powerful managers who build successes in their own right.  A Street Smart Leader knows that no one can be empowered.  Your job as a Coach is to teach your managers the leadership skills with which to flourish.  By getting off of the field and starting to call the plays you will be able to keep your perspective.  Coaching your managers with your direct experience will lead to one victory after another.  Imagine leading five or six high performance teams and before you know it you will have racked up Championship Season.

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As a youthful gent of nine or ten years old,  I would bounce from slumber at the break of an unused fresh Saturday outfitted in my printed PJs and swing through the kitchen preparing a “Capitan Crunch” feast before bearing straightaway towards my morning’s mission.  Capitalizing on my brother’s never-ending zzzs and Mom’s weekly programmed chore ritual, I would swiftly lay claim and appropriate that enchanted place my family had christened the “TV Room”.  My throne embodied a post on the hard floor, cross legged, as close as I could risk without the perpetual admonition of “you’re ruining your eyes”.  Finally!  After tortuous weeknights of my parent’s “Million Dollar Movie” boredom, I possessed power and mastery over the magnanimous magical machine.  I would conduct my colorless, make believe travels enthralled in the lands of heroes and villains.  With their nail-biting gunfights, glorious horses, chair -breaking barroom fights and murderous bank robberies, Westerns became the beloved genre for my inaugural immersion into the human condition.  And if you wanted to make me jump, splash some of Captain’s milk, and smash the daybreak’s tranquility with hyperventilating yelps, just start a Stampede.

Out on the prairie, right when all seemed tranquil and noiseless, rustlers up to no-good would infiltrate the herd and scatter the cattle into a panic.  In a split second, before you grappled it, the entire herd of cattle was racing over the plains; quaking the very ground I sat on.  As the unruly panting mob swung closer to me, kicking up dust and throwing rocks, I could see their blinding determination to run-over everything in their way.  As the camera drew back from the crushing hoofs and snorting horns I could see the thundering mass headed for the edge of a cliff where they were certain to meet a bloody mangled ending.  Then with a shift in music, the Cowboys would kick into action.  And in a flash, the movie’s star would appear from nowhere.  Thrusting his lurching horse forward with his white hat flapping in the air, the Cowboy would begin gaining speed alongside the runaway herd.  With his neck straining forward, he would endeavor to sight the lead renegade bull, and plunge toward that key position right on the herd’s shoulder.  And as he overtook the reckless followers and met the behemoth eyeball to eyeball, the Cowboy would courageously lean into the rush slowly moving it sideways.  Then, with cereal now falling from my mouth, the climactic moment would arrive when the Cowboy discovered himself in front of the herd and on the brink of the cliff ready to plummet to his own peril.  But as his steed tumbled rocks into the deep canyon below, the Cowboy would make one last blood and guts challenge and round the herd towards safety.

In business, a Leader is often faced with having to thwart an out of control stampede headed for danger.  This business pandemonium usually manifests itself as a runaway idea or reckless emotion which can become uncontrollable once set into motion.  As these wild upsurges pick up more and more muck, they elevate a sense of urgency driving energy to a single-minded purpose.   A dangerous purpose that is willing to run over anything that gets between it and the edge of the cliff.  As a Leader you need to be able to turn a bad idea without forsaking your own safety.

Anger and surprise can be strong initiators of rash calls to action.  When confronted with the realization of a major blunder, many managers will look for blood.  They fly into a rage almost with nostrils flaring, and demand to know who made this mistake.  They want someone to go out there, find out what transpired and come back with someone’s head on a platter.  “And if it was so-and-so they better be written-up or they better be fired!”  Most times the situation is more complex than just one individual.  Although it might bring momentary gratification to sacrifice an easy mark, such an oversimplified solution rarely resolves your real dilemmas.  But these are not rational moments.

Sometimes the stampede emanates from a group of people with a runaway idea.  A ringleader decides to go after some person, some program or some concept because they have decided it no longer works.  They quickly enrage the group and generate movement.  As a group, they are forceful.  They can run full speed and they can run people over in their quest to see that nothing gets in their way.  They can easily lose perspective and become unconcerned with collateral damage in pursuit of their personal agenda.

Or perhaps you have seen the stampede that begins of nothing more than pure enthusiasm of a new idea where everyone becomes immediately excited about the possibility of its potential.  All of a sudden, everyone wants to start running and making it happen without thoughts, without plans, and without any attention to the consequences or pitfalls the plan may have.  They are running wild, kicking up dirt and headed for failure.

As a Leader you need to be able to recognize an out-of-control stampede and develop the skills to turn it around before it drives itself and you to the bottom of nowhere.

Begin by staying alert and understanding that stampedes are concocting all around you.  In order to retain your own survival and not be run over, you need to be ready and able to move fast.  Once you perceive the initial rumblings, crank your brain into overdrive, get those synapses popping, and your adrenaline pumping.  If you do not possess the energy, the speed and the stamina to run with the herd they will run away and you will be watching the catastrophe from the back.

Now remember, if the herd breaks they will have the jump on you; so you have to react quickly.  You need to swiftly run alongside of them and gain speed as you out-think them.  Their emotion will slow them down; keep your thoughts moving.  Stay calm and look for your “shoulder” position.  As you reach the eyeball to eyeball position get ready to make your move. Right here is where most managers make a crucial gaffe.  They run in front of the herd and standing with their heels on the edge of the cliff, commence waving their hands in the air trying to convince a bad idea to stop in its tracks.  As you can imagine, these managers end up on the bottom of some devastating results.

Verbalizing your convictions and pontificating your objections will only put you on the edge of the cliff to be run over.  The secret to negotiating the “shoulder position” of an argument is to ask the right questions.  It is the right questions that will turn the debate.  You only need to “lean in” enough to get the emotion to flinch.  From here, you can begin to control and turn the conversation away from those runaway ideas.

So next time your boss wants the head of an important member of your team or you are faced with a run away group, you won’t answer that you “don’t think they are right” or you “don’t think that it is fair”.  Instead, you’ll start by running alongside of them while discussing and agreeing with the problem.  You will ensure they understand that you understand the gravity of the situation and their cry for action.  Share and engage their emotion while always staying on an intellectual plane, all the while gaining ground and preparing to take another direction.  At the right moment you will begin turning the discussion.  Start asking questions!  Go beyond the immediate rush and explore the after-effects.  Open up the perspective of the entire judgment.   “Well if we fire Joe, who’s there to take over and properly manage the program he’s running?”  Or, “That is a great idea.  With our other commitments, how can we find the time to implement it properly?”  Getting a bad idea to stop and think for only a moment about the consequences of stampeding is enough to begin the turn.

As you turn the stampede you will sense the energy drain out of them.  They will suffer with a letdown as they realize the goal they were charging so hard for has been diverted.  A good leader will bring his run-away herd back into the fold gently.  You need to take the fragments that were right and good and direct them back to safety where they can live for another day.  Your boss wanted accountability – this is a good thing.  And your group wanted to improve a situation – this is a good thing.  It is your responsibility to preempt a repeating panic by improving the root causes with a controlled plan that will succeed.

Stampedes are exhilarating and exciting.  They are filled with moments of passion and deep convictions.  But if you watch the movie in slow motion and look into the eyes of the cattle you will see their conviction and passion are really misled fear and anger.  Your job is to be constantly on look out for the possibility of your A-Team stampeding.  If they start running, you need to kick it into high gear, run alongside of them, and gain the “shoulder position” with intelligent provoking questions.  Demonstrating your ability to stay calm in the face of an impending disaster will build your team’s confidence in you and encourage them to run full speed in the right direction next time.  They will trust that if they put their passion, energy and drive into the sprint of a project, you will lead them to higher ground.  Ride tall, keep your eyes open and remember, sometimes you have to “Cowboy Up” if you want to be a Street Smart Leader.

I have witnessed some of the best and brightest MBAs crash and burn, like Icarus with his wings of wax,never to again ascend.  They are extraordinarily smart individuals.  They are amazingly articulate.  And damn if they do not know the answers to all matters. These confident and glassy contenders are able to decipher complex business conundrums and possess the facility to deliver sophisticated presentations to corroborate their campaign.  These managers are extremely proficient, cogent, brainy businesspeople. But repeatedly they take off towards the brightness of their ideas only to tumble back to failure.  What is it about their “book smarts” that thwarts their flight from soaring with their strategies?   Street Smart Leaders embrace an imperative truism, the sine qua non: Business is easy – People are hard.

All of the acumen in the world falls short if one does not understand the enigmatic component created once “people” are introduced into the equation.  There are a few exceptional careers where an individual’s solitary efforts are developed in a bubble to produce results.  But in the overwhelming majority of situations, people are necessary if we are to materialize concepts into actions.

So often, I see competent managers charged with a task fail to coalesce their team of people.  They self-sabotage their own brilliance and watch their plan plummet from the sky.  They focus on the plan, disregarding the importance of connecting their strategy to their people.  This snubbing of the human component creates an undercurrent of defiance leading to an imperceptible revolution.  The insurgency occurs because the manager has included “people” as one of the “things” in his plan.  For a Leader to implement a strategy or idea, the Leader must grasp he is asking “people to change”.  His plan’s success is reliant on his ability to mobilize human beings into action and construct change.

People are vital to accomplishing your goals.  They are diverse and complicated.  To be an effective Leader you must focus a significant part of your studies on the behavioral sciences.  What are the motivations of people?  The application of behavioral concepts to real world situations crafts a “business psychology” of people at the “street level”.  The more proficient you are at understanding the personal motivation of each member of your team, the better change agent you will become.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

As a Leader it is your obligation to make change happen.  You are dealing with change issues involving broken and ineffective practices or you are moving your team in a new direction towards a competitive advantage.  Developing the strategies and plans for your program are characteristically a straight forward process.  You can ordinarily figure out what you need to do in business.  Getting people to embrace and carry out your plans is where the Leadership Challenge lies.  So let’s start with a fundamental of business psychology that you need to understand if you are going be successful with moving people to Change.

Fundamental Number One:  People love their misery.  Yes I’ll say that again, people love their misery.  I’m amazed at how often I see people in miserable conditions.  Nothing is going their way, they are frustrated to the extreme and at the brink of emotional (sometimes physical and deadly) breakdowns and yet when you approach them and start to discuss the idea of a change taking place, they seize their misery and clutch it tight to their guts refusing to release it.  What could be so petrifying about change?  They are unconsciously terrified to move from something they know so well, to something having an ambiguous result.  For most human beings this is a very scary proposition.  For them to let go of their misery they must trust that you, as their Leader, have a better place to go.  Many of them have been disappointed throughout their entire careers and they will only let go of the misery when they have no other choice.  A good leader knows how to inspire trust in the plan and emancipate the misery.

As time passes, with some attention to the subject of business psychology, you will get an overall general feel of what you need do as a manager to move people one way or the other.  But if you truly want to excel with the “people” factor of business, it is necessary to get involved with the people.  This means getting down to an individual level with the people on your team and taking the time to think about who they are and what makes them tick.  What makes them happy or excited and when are they skeptical and resistant?   You do not need to have a psychology degree to understand the elementary drivers of an individual’s inspiration.  It is a matter of dedicating generous time and paying close attention to your team.  It entails more than the time in your office with them sitting across the desk.  It necessitates time in their environments where you can listen and hear what is imperative to them. 

Remember it is your people who are going to assassinate your plan, often for reasons they do not even comprehend.  It’s your obligation as a leader to be proactive and stay ahead of them.  Understand what the motivations of each member of the team are.  There are those that have seen it all before.  They feel they have heard of all the changes you describe and invested themselves only to find disappointment.  They would rather hold onto their misery than put themselves out there gain and suffer another disappointment.  Or there are those who hold their misery because they are content with the routine; a daily routine which has become manageable and “easy” for them to navigate.  And there are those who will just refuse to accept someone may have better ideas.  There are thousand, maybe a million, different situations like this, each connecting someone’s resistance to the idea of change.  Regardless of the reasons for their confrontation to change, they are really suffering … miserably suffering. 

To become a strong leader you need to be strong on the people level.  Regardless of your talents, IQ, education, or your planning ability, if you are not able to move people forward, you will fail.

Leading people from misery to change involves three steps.  First, you need to build trust with people.  This comes from having a personal relationship with them.  Someone has to feel they know you and that you understand them before they are going to trust you. Once you have this basic trust established, you are then able to use it to leverage a Change Proposition. The change proposition is quite simple to extend.  The essential element is to remove the risk from the situation.  Your team must understand that the success of the project is their success.  They will have dedicated themselves to an outcome they can be proud of.  But more importantly, they must trust that if they give their comprehensive effort and the projects fails, the accountability will rest squarely on you, their Tough Leader.   It will be your failure.  Think about how many mangers you have seen set up the change proposition 180 degrees from this.  They quickly take the credit for success and blame the team for failure.   This is an anticipated misery far greater than the one they are clutching onto.  The change proposition is victorious when you generate a situation where people have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Next, build a roadmap of your vision to inspire your team.  It is important for them to see your vision of the end result and how much better they will be, but they are not leaving their misery to jump off of a cliff with you.  You must illustrate a piece by piece methodology where they can see realism and success in incremental steps.  Only then will they begin to ease the grip on their misery and grasp change.  By moving them through your change process one successful step at a time, you will find that they begin to take each new step faster and faster.  Eventually you can lead a team to running if they trust you and see the firm ground ahead.

Finally, celebrate the successes with your team.  Too many managers fail to become great leaders simply because they do not know how to distinguish their team’s achievements.  Changing is difficult.  Even success can leave a team exasperated and drained.  Without acknowledgment, your goal has been accomplished but the prominent opportunity has been squandered.  Each successful change should propel the next one.  It is important to replenish, re-invigorate, and re-inspire your team for the next challenge.  Celebration doesn’t mean you should throw a party for every small accomplishment.  But it does mean that every small accomplishment should be recognized allowing each person to absorb a moment of pride.

The change proposition is a circular event.  Trust strengthens (both ways) with each success and builds for the next project.  The next roadmap becomes clearer and your team becomes more willing to move forward on faith.  And everyone learns that change is not daunting as they celebrate progress.  With each cycle your team picks up speed, momentum, and efficiency and your pursuits become easier.

People really aren’t so hard, if you begin with the realization that it really is all about people.  Everyone has plans and everyone has ideas.  Everyone has great products and services.  But in reality, nothing changes until people change.  You need to mobilize your team in order to deliver change.  You need to gain their trust, show them the plan, and create a perpetual cycle of success for your team and for yourself.  There are many other business psychology issues you’ll have to learn to become a great Street Smart Leader.  But if you can disentangle the bonds of misery among your team, you will witness a remarkable proliferation in your A-Team’s accomplishments.  Business is easy – People are hard… Until you realize it is the people who take flight that change the world.

LUKE
Yeah, they sure do make a lot of
cold, hard, noise, Captain.
The Captain feeds his fury staring, then reaches out his
hand and Boss Paul lays the blackjack in it. As the chain
guards finish and stand up, trembling with rage, the Captain
takes a convulsive step forward and brings the sap down behind
Luke’s ear. As Luke tumbles down the littered embankment
toward the men:
CAPTAIN
Don’t you never talk that way to me!
You hear? You hear? Never!
His rage subsides and his voice becomes calm, reasonable.
CAPTAIN
(to the men)
What we got here is failure to
communicate. Some men you can’t reach,
that is they just don’t listen when
you talk reasonable so you get what
we had here last week, which is the
way he wants it, well he gets it,
and I don’t like it any better than
you men.

Click for Movie Clip

Many of you will recognize these famous lines from Stuart Rosenberg’s 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke starring Paul Newman.  For those of you under the age of 35, you really should check out this classic from Netflix.  Cool Hand Luke is the moving character study of a non-conformist, anti-hero loner who bullheadedly resists authority and the Establishment.  One line of the film’s dialogue from Strother Martin, who plays the prison warden called Captain, is often quoted: “What we’ve got here is…failure to communicate.” Anyone seeing the movie realizes that Luke is very aware of what Captain is communicating; he just doesn’t accept it.

For years there has been a colossal focus around the concept known as a Lack of Communication.  The prevalence of the so-called communication deficiency has become a magnetic reason for which to attract every problem.  The more heed I give to this issue, the more I am convinced there is no such thing as a “lack of communication”.  This vague ambiguous term has been propagated to justify every fault from why the paperclips ran out, to the Strategic Plan’s failure, and the company’s underperformance.  The communication failure movement has become one of the great “cop-outs” of our time.  As a Leader, you must eradicate this excuse from your business.  The elimination of this one term from your business will immediately improve cooperation, attainment of goals, and your overall business performance.

I recognize the implication of my position.  It concludes all of those classes and seminars you have participated in, from all of those communication consultants were an immense waste of time and money.  And even worse, rather than aiding problematic situations, they have been harmful.  Yes, that is exactly my conviction.  Communication facilitators who have come to your company and lectured about listening, personality styles, diversity, the role the sexes, etc., were misguided.  Sure there is value in being a better listener and understanding others perspectives and traits, but the basic premise, that if we just learn to “talk” to each other correctly everything else will work itself out is vastly erroneous.  Communication experts and consultants are today’s business “snake oil” salesman.

Anyone who works with me will hear me refer to the concept of “root cause” analysis. The root cause is the underlying reason a problem exists.  In my article, Creating Great Ideas by Exercising Your Mind, I compare root cause methodology to a four year old asking, “Why?”  If you’ve studied and implemented this concept, you already realize that unless you get to the root cause of situations, you really are just putting impermanent Band-Aids on potentially permanent problems.  You are reacting to fires and creating the subsequent emergency.  The idea or concept of “communication problems” is about as far away from a “root cause” analysis as you can get.  Communication problems are only symptoms at best.  If you are going to be a Street Smart Leader you need to realize that communication is never the problem.  You need to start asking “Why?”

Let me give you an example: Joe and Sally have a project assigned to them.  They both go off and begin to work on the project.  Two weeks later the project is due and after reviewing their work you discover you are completely disappointed with their product.  Their work is inconclusive, incomplete, inaccurate, and you are baffled by their inability to have concluded the assignment properly.  As you expound your frustration to them, they begin to ponder the excuses as to why they should not be held accountable.

First, they remember the communication consultant who came to the company last quarter.  And since it was made clear in the classes that communication problems are the “root of all evil”, they quickly go there.  They assert there must have been a communication problem between you and them for the work to be so far off from your expectation. Somehow you didn’t explain the task properly or they took away the wrong information or concept of the task. Now you know better, and although it would be uncomplicated to concur with them, endorsing the communication consultant’s viewpoint, your stomach binds into a knot.  As a leader, you know this isn’t right.  You know they were furnished clear concise directives.  You expected them, with their level of experience and competency, to fill in the blanks and perform; because after all it is not your job to hold their hands through every step of an assignment. You make this clear.

Next, they look at each other and begin to discuss the communication failure they must have had between themselves.  Apparently they didn’t have enough time to meet, or when they did meet couldn’t agree, or maybe they just miss understood what each other’s was going to be doing in terms of completing the task.  Regardless of the excuses, they are trying to avoid accountability on the basis of a communication problem.  As a leader you must crush the notion that communication problems can be used as the excuse for non-performance.

If you want to propel beyond communication problem excuses and solve issues, you must drive down to “root cause” analysis.  Often the root cause is simple; Joe and Sally just don’t like each other and so they can’t work well on a project together.  This is remedied by sitting them down and enlightening them on the realization that their personal disputes are the reason why their communication broke down.  Clarifying how petty differences will not constitute a motive for underperformance in their jobs and that regardless of how they feel about work towards each other, you expect them to leave-it-at-the-door and do their work professionally.  If this reoccurs you need only make it clear that if they cannot perform, irrespective of conflicts, you will find someone else who can.

The root cause of communication difficulty can often be a more complex reason such as the constraints of poor organizational structure or a non-cohesive gravely designed process.

Organizational difficulties can be one of the more impenetrable root causes of poor communication.  Most likely, you do not possess the authority to reorganize the company.  But you can understand where organizational breakdowns are occurring and why.  For example, does your company have a highly compartmentalized structure with different departments pursuing diverse goals and incentives?  Is the structure counterproductive to the pursuit of inter-departmental cooperation?  You may not be able to change the structural drivers that are reinforcing uncooperative behavior, but you are able to reach across those departmental walls and build bridges which heighten your team’s attainment of goals.  Some of those bridges will be from personal bonds with the leaders of other groups, grounded in mutual respect, trust and concern for the mutual welfare of each other.  Some bridges may just be the result of creating win-win situations completely motivated by the self-interests of both people on either side of the wall.  Regardless, you must find a way for your team to succeed with whatever organizational challenges exist.

Let’s take a moment and look at where a process problem is sometimes blamed on communication.  Process improvements and re-engineering efforts are major subjects and there is an abundance of books and expert programs which can be engaged to streamline your company efforts.  One of the simplest and most effective tools to evaluate your processes is a Deployment Chart.  A Deployment Chart is a matrix based flow chart showing the relationships between process participants. Learn to examine how you are asking people to do things to determine where the breakdown is originating.  Evaluating and redefining your processes to ensure a smooth flow can eliminate what may appear to be a communication problem.

There are many other “root causes” that disguise themselves as communication problems.  Some of them are complex and multilayered and require in-depth analysis.  More often than not, they are the progenies of lack of commitment, lack of focus and lack of creativity.  Once you barricade “lack of communication” as an excuse for non-performance and demand to understand the root cause of your team’s failures, you will activate an immediate acceleration in accomplishment. I realize there may be some communication consultants out there, who upon reading this, will conclude that I just do not understand communication issues.  I would contend it is the superficial ideology of these consultants that is at the “root cause” of many communication issues.  I challenge you to think seriously on this subject and dismiss the tide of brainwashing which has overcome us in recent years.

You need to be a Tough Leader and deal with the hard subjects behind your problems.  You need to scrape back the artificial answers such as “lack of communication”, and excavate your genuine challenges.  Only then are you going to discover tangible solutions. Avoid the “feel good’ fallacy of better communication. Deal with the material issues and produce substantial results.  Those real results will be the building blocks for your Winning A-Team.  And one more thing… it is amazing how well a Winning A-team can communicate!